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How Flexible Are You?
Are you the type of person that makes a decision and sticks to your guns? Are you unwilling to change your mind, no matter what information comes to your attention? Conversely, are you known to be the type of person always willing to give leeway to others, whether the issue is small or large? Going too far in either direction can be a serious impediment to your credibility as a project manager and leader.
Being flexible enough to listen to others and realizing when there are real issues detracting from the current project path are important skills. In fact, too much inflexibility is a common reason why many projects fail. On the other hand, if others see you as someone who is always willing to "give in" when there are disagreements, your decisions may be not taken seriously or, worse yet, ignored. So, what is the right balance to retain credibility?
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Building Up Your Credibility
Every project has limits of some type, whether those limits be in the areas of budget, time constraints, technology, or resources. When making project decisions, these limits have to be taken into consideration to ensure the success of the project. If a project manager is not seen as a credible leader, other members of the project team may not take the decisions that he or she makes seriously. This can happen in a couple of different ways:
- If the project manager is seen as too rigid or inflexible, the team may feel like nothing they say or do matters. So, if an issue arises or new information develops that could affect a project decision, they may ignore it instead of bringing it to the project manager's attention. This could result in unrealistic goals or schedules, among other things.
- Conversely, if the project manager is known to bend or give way to any little thing that crosses his or her desk in order to avoid personal conflict, the team may not take deadlines, goals, and other project decisions seriously. That is, the team may assume that if they don't meet a goal, they can just "talk" their way out of it.
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Finding the Right Balance
In order to have credibility as a project manager, and to have your decisions be meaningful, you need to find the right degree of flexibility. Further, it's possible degree and flexibility can change with every new project that comes your way. That is, the mixture of people, environment, and technology can have a big influence on how flexible you need to be.
While this balance can change with every project, some of the most important things to keep in mind are the limits associated with the current project. Make a private list for yourself that includes which part of the project are flexible and which aren't. Ask yourself questions like these:
- Is the budget for the project so narrowly defined that there is no way to obtain additional funding if needed?
- How stringent are the deadlines? If this project is not completed on time, will it hold up future planned endeavors? Are you dealing with a client that will cancel the deal altogether if the deliverables do not arrive by a certain date?
- How flexible are your resources? Does your budget allow for overtime, if required, to deliver the project on time? Will your team be willing to put in overtime efforts? Are there any untapped resources that could be called in to help out during that seventh inning stretch?
- What do you know about the project's current stakeholders? What are their main priorities – budgets, scheduling, or something altogether different? Have all stakeholders been involved in project decision-making?
Once you know the answers to these questions, you can get a general idea of how flexible your own decisions can be. For certain items that can't be negotiated, such as tight scheduling or limited funding, make sure these points are communicated to the entire team to enhance your credibility as a project manager. If the team is completely aware of project constraints and knows that these limits influence your decisions, they are more likely to not only adhere to those non-negotiable decisions, but also to understand why they were made in the first place.